I can literally give you the exact date of the happiest day of my life (so far). Answer: September 26th, 2009. On that blistering hot day in Spicewood, Texas I married my best friend and baked goods taste tester. Our vows included not only promises of loyalty and undying love, but also references to The Lord of the Rings and Battlestar Galactica. There was even an assurance on my behalf to never ever again throw away the discarded tops of Oreo cookies in the trash. The future would now forever hold a new receptacle for such “waste”, my hubby’s tummy.
But, perhaps the most memorable moment of our whole nuptials was the cutting of the groom’s cake. Now, if you live in or are from the southern half of this country then there is no explanation needed for the sentence prior to this one. But, as I’ve learned from living in Yankee country the past decade, not everyone partakes in this fun wedding tradition. Typically, the groom has his own cake made in his honor, since more likely than not everything else in the wedding was selected in honor of the blushing bride. The groom’s cake is most often something silly or an ode to his favorite sports team or alma mater. For our wedding, we had an armadillo. Why an armadillo, you ask? Simple. One of my husband’s favorite movies is Steel Magnolias. Steel Magnolias, really? Yes really. Quit asking so many rhetorical questions. He was raised by an awesome lady who never restricted his viewing solely because a movie may or may not be classified as a chick flick. And my husband is the better man for it.
“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
There are scenes from certain movies that I only have to think about and then I’ll start crying. My Girl, when she’s crying at the funeral because Thomas J’s not wearing his glasses. “He can’t see without his glasses.” The very end of Pan’s Labyrinth left me sitting in the theatre unable to move. But don’t even get me started on the first 10 minutes of Up. Seriously, I’m starting to cry right now. Steel Magnolias has a painfully beautiful moment as well. As heartbreaking as it is I can’t bring myself to turn away from the brilliant performance by Sally Field fighting through unbearable grief. I’m pretty sure her delivery of the monologue in the cemetery garden made me want to become an actress. The movie is filled with lovely moments and also lots of laughs. And also lots of memorable quotes: “Pink is my signature color”, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me”, “You are too twisted for color TV!”
Steel Magnolias also has another special place in my heart. It was the first play I was ever in. I played the part of Annelle, in case you’re curious, my senior year in high school. The experience actually taught me a lot. Two days before the day of the show (y’all) the director was forced to cut the first 10 pages of the script due to time constraints. Those lost pages happened to contain the bulk of my lines and the back story of my character. But the director, being the creative and awesome person she is (thanks Kristen), gave me the freedom to do whatever improv I wanted in that first scene to attempt to convey, without dialogue, how awkward and out of place my character was in a strange environment. I distracted myself by “accidentally” dropping props and even eating a piece of candy to only then spit it out and stuff it in the couch cushion. All this hopefully conveyed my character’s sense of not belonging and discomfort in her skin, an important development later in the story. It actually was a great first lesson for my writing. Sometimes you learn more about a character by what she does and not by what she says.
Let’s bake a movie…
Red Velvet Armadillo Mini Cakes
Mini red velvet cakes decorated with gray-tinted cream cheese frosting.
Baking has been compared to preparing a science experiment. I believe this to be a fairly accurate comparison. The measurements need to be exact. It’s not like cooking where you can throw in a dash here and a pinch there. Baking is precise. So you can understand why I gasped (startling my husband) when I realized I had accidentally doubled two ingredients. I was attempting to halve the recipe, but forgot to divide the measurements for the last two ingredients. Said ingredients were the cocoa and food coloring. I was worried I had thrown off the consistency. To my amazement, the mistake ended up making the cake super moist, the chocolate flavor pop more, and left the cake a really really vibrant red. It was ideal for a road kill armadillo. Crisis averted. And there ain’t nothing like the pairing of cream cheese frosting with red velvet cake. To this day our friends still talk about the armadillo groom’s cake at our wedding. It was the first taste of red velvet for many of them. So if you haven’t been familiarized with this southern treat then do yourself a favor and get to baking the recipe below.
For the cake:
1 ½ cups plus 1 ½ tbsp. cake flour (not self-rising)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 extra large egg, room temperature
6 tbsp. red food coloring
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
¾ tsp. salt
¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature
¾ tsp. cider vinegar
¾ tsp. baking soda
Special tool: silicon mini bunt cups or pan
For the frosting:
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
5 cups confectioner sugar, sifted
Food coloring, package of red, blue, yellow, and green
Black piping gel
Silver sugar sprinkles
Preheat oven to 350° F
1) For the cake, in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until well blended. In a small bowl, whisk together red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla extract and add to the creamed butter and sugar. Beat well until all combined. Stir the salt and buttermilk together in a measuring cup or small bowl. Add the sifted cake flour alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the cake flour. Mix until just incorporated, careful not to over beat. In another small bowl, combine the cider vinegar and baking soda and immediately add to the batter. Mix well, scrapping down the sides, until the batter is smooth. Spray mini bundt cups very well with non-stick cooking spray. Divide batter among the cups filling no more than 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean remove from the oven and leave to cool in the cups for at least 30 mins. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
2) For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth (about 3 minutes). Note: I find it best to work with cream cheese right out of the fridge and not room temperature. It may take a bit longer to mix with the butter (at room temperature) but it’ll eventually be smooth and easier to work with than if it were softer. Add the vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time until the desired consistency and taste is met. To thicken the frosting more you can cover and refrigerate, but for no longer than 3 hours.
3) To decorate, add 4 drops of blue food coloring and 2 drops of red, yellow, and green to the frosting. Stir until colors blend together. Continue to add the same ratio of colors to the frosting until a nice gray color is achieved. Scoop frosting into a piping bag fitted with a petal tip. Pipe strips of frosting starting at the top center of the mini cake and down. Continue piping around the whole cake. Create 3 sections on each side of the cake with the black piping gel. You can use the frosting strip as a guideline. I had two strips in each section. Fill the sections with silver sugar sprinkles. Using an unfrosted cake, slice a 1 inch segment for the head. Lay flat in front of frosted cake. Slice a slightly smaller segment and place on top of first segment. Spread gray frosting over head connecting to the body. For the tail, cut small segments on the birthday candle, making sure not to cut all the way through. Bend the tail in a curve and insert the wick end into the body. Pipe eyes with the black gel and ears with the gray frosting using the same petal tip.
4) Shove in face. The frosting is sooooo yummy!
Source: Cupcakes and frosting adapted from Magnolia Bakery